Imagine having every imaginable ingredient for a delectable dinner delivered directly to your doorstep, perfectly pre-portioned. Once your box arrives in the mail, every component of the perfect dish is there – meat for your main course, spices that make the meal flavorful, and even the fresh vegetables required to bring your dish to life.
But you’re not on your own here, either. On top of the best and freshest ingredients possible, you receive a recipe with step-by-step instructions — pictures and everything.
You couldn’t mess this meal up if you tried, you’ll say. Free of stress and ready for dinner, you dig right in.
If you believe the marketing videos and clever website tutorials offered by meal delivery services like Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, and Plated, the scenario described above is what you’d expect when you sign up.
But I’m here to offer an alternate view; as a consumer, my experience with meal delivery was not carefree, enjoyable, or even that tasty. Worse, it was waaaaaaaaaaaaaay too expensive – even with a coupon. And without a coupon, the “service” these companies offer is downright laughable.
My Experience with Blue Apron
While I’ve explored most of the other meal delivery services by reading reviews and talking to others, my experience with Blue Apron was first-hand. After receiving a $25-off coupon for Blue Apron via email, I figured I might as well try it.
The initial downside of signing up for Blue Apron (and other ingredient delivery services) is that they’re “subscription services,” meaning you must sign up for ongoing service. You can’t just select a single meal for delivery; you have to choose a program that involves ongoing ingredient delivery in perpetuity, and give them your credit card information so they can charge even if you forget.
I went ahead and selected the three-meals-a-week plan for $59.94. Of course, I added the coupon code to bring that total down to around $35. While I was at it, I went ahead and “paused” meal delivery for the next few weeks (Blue Apron does let you skip weeks without penalty). That way, I could try the first delivery then cancel the service before they charged my credit card for future weeks.
Receiving the box of goodies in the mail was fun at first, but I was quickly overwhelmed with the process. First, it really bugged me that every single ingredient for each meal came in its own plastic bag or canister. Each meal had several different spices and liquid components, so the trash created by just a couple of dinners was unreal.
That picture above? That’s the amount of trash that came from a single box of Blue Apron meals. On top of that, our box came with these giant freezer packs that I’m still stuck with.
Blue Apron on their website says their packaging is recyclable, but it’s not like rinsing out a can of beans or jar of pasta sauce and tossing it in the ol’ blue bin. Some of the plastic, for example, isn’t accepted by local curbside pickup programs, and while you can mail it all back to Blue Apron for recycling, you first have to figure out how to clean all the stuff — like a tiny bag that was once filled with paprika, or a small container with a removable end that once held cream cheese. It’s a lot of unexpected work.
Speaking of work, the meals Blue Apron sent me required way too many steps. One meal I created, Spiced Cauliflower with Jasmine Rice and Cilantro-Yogurt sauce, required a sink full of pots, pans, and dishes to create. Another Blue Apron dish I made required all four burners of my stove on at once, one of which was roasting only a tiny spoonful of herbs.
The picture below? Those are the dishes I used to create a single Blue Apron dinner. It was almost enough to fill my dishwasher!
In summary, the entire experience seemed like more of a hassle than a help. I mean, once I was done prepping each Blue Apron meal, I still had a huge mess to clean up, a giant pile of trash to deal with, and a dinner that was just “meh.” The meals were okay, but they certainly weren’t worth all this extra effort.
The Real Reason These Services Are a Rip-Off
The fact that Blue Apron was a lot of work and too messy for me isn’t that surprising. In my home, we’ve got a five-year-old and a seven-year-old. Most of our meals are simple, as my kids aren’t impressed with fancy ingredients.
I also know that I may be the exception. I know many people – and even friends – who love meal delivery services like the one I tried for myriad reasons. One friend told me Hello Fresh has been instrumental in helping her learn how to use new ingredients, for example. Another acquaintance I know says she hates grocery shopping, and that Blue Apron saves her from a few treacherous trips to the store.
I get it; I really do. But I still wonder if the culinary convenience these services offer is worth the cost.
To come up with an estimate of the cost per meal, let’s use Hello Fresh. Per their website, the “Classic Plan” for a family of four costs $129 per week for three meals. Do the math and you’ll see that works out to $10.75 per meal – about the cost of a Triple Bacon Burger with fries at Applebee’s, and a little more than the Ancient Grain, Arugula, and Chicken Salad from Panera Bread.
The price-per-meal goes down a little with different plans. For two people to get five meals per week, for example, it’s $9.90 per dish. And with the family meal plan, the cost per person can go as low as $8.75 per meal.
That’s an exorbitant amount of money when you think about it. At minimum, you’re paying $35 per meal for your family of four to eat dinner – and you still have to do all the cooking! And beyond the meal prep, you’re still tasked with cleaning up, doing the dishes, and recycling all the materials.
For that much cash, you might be better off heading to Applebee’s for a round of burgers. You’d have to pay taxes and add a tip, but at least you wouldn’t have to clean up!
In my eyes, these ingredient delivery services are nothing more than a new way for us to waste our hard-earned money. With some clever marketing, they’ve convinced us it’s totally normal to spend $10 per person on dinner, while doing all the work ourselves.
If you’re using a meal delivery service to learn new techniques, eat healthier, or save yourself from visiting the grocery store, I totally get it. Some people are bound to enjoy and even benefit from trying out new recipes and playing around with ingredients they’ve never used before.
But if you’re considering one of these services to save money – or because you think it sounds easy — think again. Unless you have a huge coupon, you’re paying restaurant prices — and you’re doing all the cooking and cleaning yourself.
If this isn’t the worst deal of the century, I don’t know what is.
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Have you ever used a meal delivery service? Why or why not?
Holly Johnson is an award-winning personal finance writer who is obsessed with frugality, budgeting, and travel. She blogs at ClubThrifty.com and teaches others how to write online at EarnMoreWriting.com.